Last week was a busy one for CaseBank as we participated in Siemens PLM Connection 2014 in Orlando, Florida. Our booth generated a lot of buzz with attendees thanks to the increasing recognition that troubleshooting tools provide the missing link between product design (PLM) and product support (SLM), significantly improving manufacturers’ ability to reduce lifecycle costs, optimize performance and increase uptime. Finally, engineering can get accurate feedback from the field.
Getting to the show was a bit of an adventure that further reinforced my belief that maximizing product satisfaction requires reliable troubleshooting and repair solutions. Before our flight departure, apparently there was a problem with the windshield de-icing on the aircraft, which is not good when flying near the daily rainstorms in Florida. After leaving the gate, the pilot tried to reset the system but following a 30 minute delay on the tarmac we were forced back to the gate. (This is known as an AOG—aircraft on ground.) I watched through the window as maintenance swarmed over the nose of the aircraft, and started swapping out expensive-looking parts, each time running to the cockpit to see if the windshield worked. Finally they gave up, switched airplanes, and I arrived in Florida about 3 hours late. (I was privately pleased that the aircraft manufacturer was not a CaseBank customer. Otherwise I would have been embarrassed that they couldn’t isolate the problem.)
Now the interesting thing was that although I couldn’t hear the technicians talking, their body language indicated they had no clue what was wrong with the windshield. I checked with a CaseBank customer and found there are only about 12 failure modes for windshield de-icing problems. If that’s also true for this manufacturer I would think maintenance would try to eliminate all the cheap solutions before playing pop-and-swap with expensive parts. (When customers return components that work just fine it makes manufacturers crazy. That’s called a no-fault-found—NFF.) I wonder if the design engineers at that aircraft company will ever know about the windshield de-icing problem on that airplane and if so, is it new to them? Anyway, given that an AOG drives up costs and results in a plane-full of frustrated, unhappy passengers, and a really unhappy airline, this seemed like the perfect story to emphasize our belief that fast, effective troubleshooting is the missing link between PLM and SLM.
On Wednesday, June 18th, I put that story to use as I presented a talk called “Failures in Action—Applying Field Experience to Product Design,” where I explained that engineers need better insight to product operations and support in the field. Companies, like the airline in my story above, are making important business decisions based on the anticipated cost, performance and uptime of their equipment and once the customer takes delivery of a new machine the manufacturer has very little knowledge about how it’s really being used. Without an easy way to collect information from the field, problems that are known to customers and service technicians keep showing up in subsequent products. The right diagnostics and troubleshooting solution will allow engineers to observe the troubleshooting processes used for all of their equipment and to quickly identify new failure modes, recognize recurring defects and measure failure histories at the component, equipment and fleet levels.
With this newfound insight, manufacturers can quickly take corrective action—whether by service bulletin or product redesign—to ensure their equipment exceeds expectations for low cost, high performance and reliable uptime. And isn’t that really the key to building long-term, repeat customers?